For the third time in three years, a bill has been filed in Tallahassee to change the rules governing foreclosures in Florida. Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, once again is proposing the legislation as a remedy to the backlog of foreclosure cases in Florida.
The Palm Beach Post’s Rhonda Swan wrote in an editorial that ran Tuesday, Jan. 15, that the legislation should undergo scrutiny. That’s an understatement. Once again, advocates for homeowners are skeptical that the bill will do anything to help homeowners. During last year’s legislative session, the bill sparked protests outside the state capitol and here in West Palm Beach. The bill’s authors and supporters say this year’s version has more protections for homeowners. In fact, in a move that may be aimed at limiting opposition, it excludes “owner-occupied” dwellings on the assumption that most of those are homesteaded.
But at its heart remains the provision allowing lenders to speed up the process. Lenders can do so by certifying that they have the correct paperwork proving they have the right to foreclose. At this stage in the foreclosure debacle no one, especially not a court judge, should trust that a lender certifying the correctness of the paperwork can do so with impunity.
This bill would convert the judicial foreclosure process for a set of homeowners to a ministerial review of the lenders’ certification document. In an attempt to codify what will be required the law removes the requirement to weigh the evidence and removes all the evidentiary protections. Why require a judge to look at it at all if not to examine the veracity of the documentation?
Unfortunately, the media is reporting on the bill as if it were a potential solution to the foreclosure backlog in the courts. While this bill, no doubt, will meet resistance from homeowner advocates and stands a long-shot at adoption, it would be interesting to imagine the headlines of surprise if the bill were to pass and six months later there’s no change to the backlog of foreclosure cases. It also would be because no one bothered to give it enough scrutiny.